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Exclusive: Palestinian Diplomat Who Went Viral for U.N. Speech Says Israel & U.S. Are Isolated on Gaza

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The U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza: 153 U.N. members approved the resolution, 23 abstained, and just 10, including the United States, voted “no.” The vote is nonbinding but adds to the mounting isolation faced by the U.S. for its ongoing support of Israel’s assault that has killed at least 18,000 Palestinians in just over two months. In an exclusive interview, Democracy Now! speaks with Palestinian diplomat Nada Tarbush, whose address to the U.N. went viral last month. “Only a handful of powerful states have been trying to get Palestine off the agenda and been blocking any avenue to push for the rights of the Palestinian people under international law,” says Tarbush. She also discusses how Zionists have disrupted Palestine’s history of diversity by trying to create an ethnocracy through ethnic cleansing and colonization.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The United Nations General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. In Tuesday’s vote, 153 nations approved the resolution, 23 abstained, just 10, including the U.S. and Israel, voted “no.” Though nonbinding, the U.N. vote is another indication of the mounting isolation of the United States as it continues to support Israel’s assault, which has killed over 18,000 Palestinians in a little over two months. The vote came just days after the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire.

Meanwhile, President Biden has delivered his sharpest criticism yet of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During a donor event in Washington, D.C., Biden criticized what he called Israel’s, quote, “indiscriminate bombing” of Gaza.

In a moment, we’ll be joined by the Palestinian U.N. diplomat Nada Tarbush. But first, let’s turn to a speech she gave in November at the U.N. in Geneva. It went viral.

NADA TARBUSH: Israel said something that should make all of you shudder. It effectively said, “I can kill any and every person in Gaza. The 2.3 million people in Gaza are either terrorists or terrorist sympathizers or human shields, and are therefore legitimate targets.” Every person, according to Israel, falls into one of these three categories — a child, a journalist, a doctor, a U.N. staff, a newborn baby in an incubator. And so, according to Israel, it can kill them and then have the audacity to come to this room and tell the world with a straight face, “We are acting in accordance with international law.”

The death of each of the over 11,350 people killed over the past month, be it children, journalists, U.N. staff, the sick, the elderly, according to Israel, was justified. Think about that for a moment, and let it give you pause. Anyone espousing this warped logic has no shred of humanity, no sense of morality and no knowledge of legality.

But guess what: Your carpet explanation for carpet bombing will not fly. People are not fools. The people in this room are seasoned diplomats, who are well read, have a knowledge of history, and many of whom have seen your government make the same arguments during your six previous military aggressions on Gaza in the past 15 years. They have seen you resort to collective punishment, targeting of Palestinian children, journalists, medical staff, aid workers before. They have seen you forcibly transfer our communities, colonize our lands, demolish our homes, and evict families from their own properties since the 7th of October and for the 75 years that preceded it.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Palestinian U.N. diplomat Nada Tarbush speaking November 17th, almost a month ago. At the time, the death toll in Gaza from Israel’s assault was about 11,000. Today it’s over 18,600.

Nada Tarbush joins us now in an exclusive interview from Geneva, where she serves as counselor to the Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine to the United Nations in Geneva.

I’m wondering, Nada Tarbush, if you can start off by responding to the UNGA, the U.N. General Assembly’s overwhelming call, even if it is symbolic, for a Gaza ceasefire, in response to the U.S. vetoing in the U.N. Security Council on Friday the ceasefire call, at the same time that it looks like President Biden is intensifying his criticism of Netanyahu and the Israeli bombardment, criticizing indiscriminate bombing. If you can just take that on?

NADA TARBUSH: Absolutely. First of all, thank you so much for having me, Amy.

So, with regard to the UNGA vote, what I’d like to first say is, to put it in context for the audience, this resolution was brought to the General Assembly following the United States’s veto on a resolution at the Security Council last Friday which had called for an immediate ceasefire. And so states invoked tools that are available in the United Nations to — whenever the Security Council is deadlocked, to take the discussion to the General Assembly, and on a matter of international peace and security. So this is what happened. And the vote was, unsurprisingly, overwhelmingly for an immediate ceasefire.

Now, the significance this vote was that not only is it showing that the support that Israel had, from many Western states especially, for its military assault on Gaza is eroding, and even staunch supporters of Israel, like Australia and like Canada, are now saying we need a ceasefire. And so, what this shows is that Israel is isolated, the United States is isolated. The General Assembly, which is the world’s parliament and which is the most democratic organ in the United Nations, has said, “We overwhelmingly want an immediate ceasefire.”

Now, at the same time — and this is where sometimes you feel there’s a parallel reality — you hear the United States voting against that — you see the United States voting against that resolution, and at the same time words from the Biden administration about Israeli indiscriminate bombing. So, my comment on that would be that we believe in actions and not words when it comes to the U.S. government. I have heard words in the U.N. that anyone would have thought were a good thing for the Americans to say, like “We care about Palestinian civilians.” But this will not fly as long as we see the United States sending military aid, billions of dollars in military aid, using Americans’ taxpayer money, which it could have used on other things, like homelessness and healthcare, and sending that aid to help Israel commit a genocide. So I am not convinced that the Biden administration has changed course. It is still voting against a ceasefire, vetoing Security Council resolutions, sending aid and giving Israel all the diplomatic and political cover that it needs.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Nada Tarbush, I wanted to ask you — before October 7th, both Israel and the United States comfortably believed that the issue of Palestine had been forgotten by the rest of the world. I’m wondering your sense of how the world has rallied in the recent two months in support of the Palestinian cause.

NADA TARBUSH: I would say that the world has never forgotten Palestine, unless by “the world” we mean the powerful, militarized states like the United States and other European states or other states from the Global North, let’s say. The international community has, year after year, said — called for a solution, called for an end to occupation, for an end to apartheid, an end to the settlement colonization project that we see in the West Bank. And so, it is only a handful of powerful states that have been trying to get Palestine off the agenda and blocking any avenue to push for the rights of the Palestinian people under international law.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you talk, as well, about your own family history as it relates to Palestine? Your family fled in 1948. Because in your powerful speech, you also talked about how relations between Jews and Palestinians were before the creation of Israel.

NADA TARBUSH: Yes, absolutely. My family are refugees from 1948. My father was from a village near Jerusalem which is one of the more than 450 villages that were completely destroyed during the Nakba, which is the catastrophic events that led to mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and to the most protracted refugee crisis in the world. And my mother also is from a city that became part of Israel after 1948.

The Palestine’s history is one of diversity. It is a multiethnic, multireligious land historically, which has hosted and welcomed all faiths, which has welcomed people of various ethnicities. It has always been a culturally diverse mosaic. And so, this is why it is not surprising to me that many people don’t see that this land can be transformed into an ethnocracy, into a state which is only for one people. And you have seen, even in the early days of Zionism, that you had many Jewish intellectuals, like Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, Sigmund Freud and others, who were against the idea of an exclusively Jewish state in the historical land of Palestine. They saw that that would cause issues like ethnic cleansing, like not respecting and indeed violating the rights of the Indigenous inhabitants.

AMY GOODMAN: In your speech that you gave at the U.N. in Geneva, you referred to these remarks in March by Israel’s far-right West Bank settler, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

BEZALEL SMOTRICH: [translated] There is no such thing as a Palestinian. There is no such thing as a Palestinian people. … Do you know who is Palestinian? I am Palestinian.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is the finance minister, part of Netanyahu’s government, Smotrich, saying, “There’s no such thing as a Palestinian,” and, for people, in case you had any trouble hearing this, “I am a Palestinian,” he said. I was wondering if you can respond.

NADA TARBUSH: Yes, I can. This is, again, not a surprising narrative. It is a narrative that we have been hearing for decades, which is that Israel does not want a Palestinian state. Golda Meir, a former Israeli prime minister, said that there is no such thing as the Palestinian people. Palestinians have been dehumanized since the creation of Israel, and even before, and, you know, in order to try and justify this settler colonial project. And there was the myth of a land without a people for a people without a land. But there were people on this land, and they are the Palestinian people.

And so, for us to hear these kind of racist and colonialist slogans is consistent with what Israel has been doing in terms of action throughout these years, which is to try and get rid of the maximum of Palestinian inhabitants from Palestine, from the West Bank, from Gaza, and to try and replace them with Israeli settlers. And so, you know, they’re just saying explicitly what they have been doing. And I think that in Gaza now, what we are seeing is the continuation of this policy of mass ethnic cleansing, of forced displacement, of trying to get rid of the Palestinian population in order to take over the land.

AMY GOODMAN: You also note in — 

NADA TARBUSH: And so, you know, even the Biden — please.

AMY GOODMAN: You also note in your speech in September that Netanyahu held up a map on what he called the new Middle East, that did not show Palestine, during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly. It did not show the West Bank, East Jerusalem or Gaza. Explain what he’s putting forward, and then President Biden now saying to this group of donors that — he’s criticizing Netanyahu, saying that he is doing this in Gaza because he doesn’t want a Palestinian — a two-state solution.

NADA TARBUSH: Indeed, yes. So, again, this is not the first time that the Israelis have shown maps which completely delete the West Bank and Gaza and incorporate them into Israel and call them Israel. I mean, this has been done consistently. Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, as — West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem were annexed. There are annexationist policies happening in the West Bank with the construction of settlements and the wall and the whole settler colonial infrastructure. And in Gaza, this is — a similar project is underway. And Gaza and the West Bank have been occupied for 56 years. Palestinian dispossession has taken place for 75 years. It is an ongoing Nakba. It is a continuation of mass ethnic cleansing and annexationist policies.

Now, the problem with them formally annexing these lands is that they would have to give the right to vote to the Palestinians, whose land they would be annexing. So, instead, they try to get rid of the Palestinians before annexing the land. But the plan has been clear, and it is a plan to take over what remains of Palestine, which is very little, what remains of historic Palestine. The West Bank and Gaza constitute 22% of historic Palestine. With the settlements, this has reduced dramatically. And they’re trying to take over whatever little bits are left.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us, Nada Tarbush, counselor to the Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine to the United Nations in Geneva. This is her first broadcast interview since the video went viral of her U.N. address on Israel’s bombardment of Gaza that she gave in Geneva.

Coming up, we’ll speak with Texas Congressmember Greg Casar as President Biden appears to be caving to Republican demands for hard-line border measures in exchange for funding for the war in Ukraine and beyond. Back in 20 seconds.

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